Over the past day or so, there’s been quite a bit of, “I’m going to delete this app!” in my Twitter timeline. Outraged by the comments made by an Uber executive about waging a million dollar smear campaign against a female journalist, people are deleting the app in droves to sever their connection with the company.
I hate to break it to you, everyone, but this is not how it works… I’ll explain.
When you delete an app from your phone, there is no secret magic notification from iOS or Android that notifies the company that you’re no longer using their account, and removes your account information from that company’s databases. Your phone’s unique device identifier and other information (read: credit card info, phone numbers, home addresses, contacts) are still there, and can still be tracked for activity (daily, weekly, and monthly active users are valuable). Though deleting the app will make you an inactive user, what you’ve shared with that particular company about yourself through their technology will sit on its servers, and they may in the future attempt to email you to “reactivate” you as a user. There is no magic signal that requests account deletion and unsubscribes you from their email lists after deleting the app, there is no tiny ping that automatically nukes your credit card data from a company’s servers.
Unless you request account deletion, which is not a guaranteed requirement of technology companies, your data will sit on their servers and be potentially transferred to another company or entity until pretty much the end of your natural life. Or beyond. No big deal, that’s just location data, device data, and all kinds of other valuable information about you
Deleting your account may not be easy. Some companies play nice, and give users the ability to deactivate/delete accounts within the settings of a web or mobile app. Many other companies make this a next-to-impossible task to complete, either by hiding the link within a support database, requiring you to engage directly with their support team via email. They do this on purpose– your data is valuable to them, remember– and provide multiple points of friction that they hope will dissuade users from going through the process. Even if you do try to delete your account– especially if the company retains the rights to your content– your data may stay on the servers in a flagged state, or worse, data will be retained though your personal identifying information and content will be disconnected from it. And you will have no way of knowing what happens.
So what can you do? A few things:
- -Use a password manager to keep your online accounts straight. In addition to being a great tool that can help you avoid major password no-nos (using the same one everywhere), a password manager can be a great safe space to keep a running list of the accounts you’ve signed up for. This list is particularly helpful if, twice a year, you go through your apps and delete whatever you don’t use, or whatever sends you too many spammy notifications.
- Delete your content or change important information before deleting your account. Remove your credit card numbers, your address, your birthdate, and whatever else you can or change it to something that can’t be connected to your identity. For some apps (social media), you may want to consider deleting your posts before leaving. Some companies make this easy by allowing you to export your data from the app, but not all do.
- Use an app to disable apps from collecting information and analytics about you and your device. Services like like Disconnect.me block the top ad companies and mobile analytics companies from getting usage stats from your device, and their app DisconnectKids is specifically designed to protect students’ privacy while using mobile devices.
Breaking up is hard to do– and there’s no easy way to make a breakup with an app a clean one. Though there’s no promise that your information will be erased or removed once you’ve requested its deletion, but it doesn’t hurt to try. If you don’t, companies will continue to cite a “lack of demand” as their reasoning for not making the account deletion process easier, and your data will pas